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My Rapid Arnis Story - Part 1

Training with Len at a workshop in Leicester

When Tom met Pat…

Back in 2012 I went to a Tuhon Pat O’Malley knife defence seminar in Leicester, being drawn to it because my JKD training was largely devoid of weapons skills. The seminar really made an impression on me: I was wow’d by Pat’s charisma and talent but actually it was the empty hand ‘Tapi Tapi’ (a series of fast, distracting, impact techniques) where I thought ‘Now THIS, I need to know!’ The JKD I had been taught had basically shown me how to punch and kick with power (with a strong focus on timing and distance control), and though I think these skills are very much within the fundamentals of fighting, I was still conscious of numerous gaps in my skillset. At this point in 2012, weapons, ground fighting, locking, trapping were missing from my repertoire, but in hindsight my ‘in-fighting,’ blocking, positioning, footwork etc all needed improvement too.

A couple of years later I saw ‘The RA Instructors course’ being advertised. I wasn’t sure whether I had the credentials and it was a massive commitment - a five-year course involving monthly visits to the Midlands was a little daunting. But one thing that really motivated me was to do something where I felt the standards were clear (as I’d experienced “political issues” in the JKD world). After a long chat with Kam Dhiman, he assured me that I would be a good fit and that if worst came to worst, there was a certification at the end of each year. Essentially, this meant you’d be capable of teaching to the grade you were qualified for if - for whatever reason - you dropped out. I’m pleased to say that along with a handful of survivors I am now on the cusp of starting the fifth and final year of the course.

I won’t bore you with a month by month explanation but rather pick out a few key themes and highlights as an overview.

Chief Instructor Pat O'Malley (left) and Sr Instructor John Macdonald (right)

Monthly Intensive Training Sessions

On my first weekend I learned the 12 angles (single stick strikes) and some footwork. Honestly, though it doesn’t sound like much, this felt like a hell of a lot at the time! Studies have shown that if you stick a tennis racket in a tennis players hand they become more co-ordinated. I was an empty-hand guy so as soon as that stick was in my hand my understanding of martial movement seemed to go out the window altogether. I didn’t really know any of the other students (who all came from weapons systems backgrounds) and it took at least four months for me to find my feet. Moving to Leicester where we were hosted by Kwoklyn Wan and Dave Freeman certainly helped - not least because we started going out on the beers!

At the beginning of Year Two I returned to RA having not trained for a few months. I was very rusty and unsure about whether I wanted to keep going – fortunately I pushed through that first weekend and I have never looked back. Each month thereafter I felt more and more at home - I looked forward to each weekend and felt each was better than the last. As the Senior RA Blackbelts will tell you: Pat’s knowledge is second-to-none and we are all grateful for the time we spend with him. The sessions are aimed at experienced practitioners/instructors and we are now at the stage where we can join the dots and understand why Pat does the things he does – it is immensely deep stuff! It’s important to mention the support from RA instructors John MacDonald and Kamal Dhiman too. They were always there to lend a hand, and having additional instructors in the room meant we were constantly getting expert attention.

Sr Instructor Kam Dhiman (right) helping Sunny (left) with his drills

Part 2 next week... Tom McGrath is a London-based JKD instructor and currently working towards his instructor qualification in Rapid Arnis. He also co-hosts Primal Radio alongside Jim McCann, where you can catch interviews with Pat O’Malley and more! Episode 6 - Guest FMA Legend Tuhon Pat O’Malley, founder of Rapid Arnis, former world champion stick fighter and former coach of the British stick fighting team

Out on the beers in Leicester, 2017
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